It is better not to think of the ancestors as "dead" or "past." They are active, ever-present tremors of consciousness. They are one in Spirit, a "cloud of witnesses," to use the beautiful Biblical phrase. Ancestors of Christians and Pagans, Muslims and Jews, North and South, East and West, white people and people of color, they do not honor our separateness, but our unity.
Honor your ancestors. Honor the ancestors of others, even your "enemies." If we cannot love our enemies, as Jesus taught, at least we can honor their ancestors. Many blessings will come of this. The ancestors dwell in the realm of forgiveness. They pray that we may forgive one another.
Collage by Rashani Rea on a line from my book, 'Savor Eternity...'
Thoughts are waves in the ocean of silence. Silence is always transparent and clear, no matter how many sparkling thoughts arise and subside. Every wave of thought is made of silence, crystal stillness at play.
Suffering begins in the mind. It begins when I cling to a thought-wave and try to hold it as a belief. The wave freezes into a solid particle, takes on mass, becomes a point of view. Then thought gets heavy.
When I believe, my mind is very grave. And the gravity of a weighty thought sinks me. But when I am free from beliefs, I can allow myriad viewpoints to dance and ripple in the sea.
Now love is possible. Love is freedom from gravity. I love you as You, no matter what you believe. This is real non-violence. Non-violence begins with awareness that does not cling to points of view. It only took me seven hundred lifetimes to abandon beliefs and dance like a sunbeam on the waters of silence.
I don't care if you don't believe me. I love you. And I'm sure that God is just this human heart, free from all opinions.
The sun blushes,
the moon a hijab,
to the trembling earth.
And here is my wish for you
who are newborn this morning.
Before you imagine
yesterday or tomorrow,
breathe "I Am."
If you are truly alive you will
never be one moment old.
Here is my prayer for you
who are newborn each morning:
Be a flame without a wick.
Root in the sap of the sky.
Hear the sound of your heart
as the gong of vast space.
No one struck that bell of night,
yet it echoes with stars.
This is what happens
when you allow the flowering
O trembling emptiness in waves of uncreated light, flowering prism of the void, I dare not sing you into form, lest this ecstasy die!
The peacock's tail spreads confusion like a rainbow through nameless tears. Gaze into this jewel and see your own kaleidoscopic face, O Trickster of Vrindivan, blue as the yearning sky!
Through me you have become the amethyst of your own desire, a mirror shattered into perfection. This is the lotus of 10,000 daggers that pierces the chest of the Alone.
O Shyama Sundara, the moon, hearing your cruel flute, strews her petals on the still forest pool, a requiem for the heart. We are each other's madness, each other's inhalation.
Perhaps we are two syllables of one name, the voluptuous shimmering wings of So'ham. I listen to the lustrous silence in the sound of this breath. If you let me call you Krishna, I will let you call me your own Self.
It seems that we are constantly reacting to the "news." This has drawn us into the realm of re-action, and away from the realm of true action, which only arises in Silence.
We are now spinning dangerously away from our own centers, into the chaos of each others reactive karma, tangling us in each others' pasts, old stories of fear, violence, and false identity with race, religion, region, and party.
The answer right now is not to re-act, but to step back into the silence at the source of creation. The coming solar eclipse is a moment of pause, release from the peripheral spin, T'shuvah and return to the stillpoint at the center, the axis of alignment.
In ancient yogic tradition, an eclipse was an opportunity to fast, meditate, and re-align with the Self. For during the eclipse, both centrifugal and centripetal forces pause, and there is quietness. Then we can easily merge with our Self.
Only when we merge with our Self can we love our Self, and only when we love our Self can we love our neighbors, even our enemies, as our Self.
Let the interior Sun align with the interior Moon in the glowing axis of your body, the Earth. Pineal, hypothalamus, amygdula.
Don't try to fix history, don't be drawn into old stories of the past, don't punch anybody in the face, fascist or antifa. Just rest your mind in the heart. Let the breath of a new creation cleanse, heal, and illuminate every cell of your flesh, every photon of your soul.
It is not our righteous "activism" that will heal America at this time, but the radiant dignity of our Being, that will emerge peaceful and powerful from its eclipse.
I will let the Buddha speak more eloquently than my babble, sharing the shortest, least known, yet most powerful of all his sutras, the 'Beda Karatta Sutra,' or 'Sutra on the Better Way.'
A seeker came to Buddha and asked, "Should I renounce the world and become a monk, to live in oneness, alone?"
Buddha smiled and said, "You can do that if you like. But there is a Better Way to be all one, which is practiced wherever you are, in whatever state of life, at any time."
"What is this Better Way?" asked the seeker.
Then the Buddha spoke these simple words:
"The past no longer exists.
The future has not been born.
But if you deeply observe,
the present moment
just as it is,
you will attain the peace
of the ancient masters."
"Layam vraja: dissolve now." ~Ashtavakra Gita
They say that dissolving the "I" is enlightenment, and this is an extraordinary event. But really, isn't it quite ordinary? Didn't it happen when you were a child, in every-day moments of wonder? Marveling at a lightning bug, marveling at the eyes of a new friend on the playground, marveling at a shooting star.
Doesn't it happen now, when you give yourself completely to your grief, and dissolve into a tear? When you give yourself to joy, and dissolve into a smile? Give yourself to the sound of Miles, a Monet water lily, a sonnet of Keats, and dissolve into silence. Give yourself to the Friend in your heart, through a touch of divine inhalation, and dissolve into thanksgiving.
At such an ordinary moment, is there anyone left? Doesn't enlightenment, the dissolution of the ego, happen ten thousand times a day?
What is all this talk about getting rid of "I"? The problem is not having an ego, the problem is clinging to it. When "I" am a fixed structure, with weight and mass in time, suffering happens. When "I" let Source create and dissolve me for each new moment of our amazing dance, beauty happens.
The enlightened are like little children. They have lots of ego. Their egos are like an ocean of bubbles, playfully expanding, then popping into nothing, every now. The arising of "I" is for expression, the dissolving is for wonder. This is the pulse, the breath of creation.
Sometimes I think even the moon and stars are whispering this. In fact, there is not a single thing in all the universe that is not made of infinitesimal love-sparks, ever dissolving into waves of ananda.
Painting by Claudia Olivos.
One of the subtler ways we make the ego a heavy permanent structure, is to imagine that we must carry the suffering of the world on our shoulders. This little mind takes great pride in that work. It is true, we cannot help but breathe in the suffering around us. Yet the healing is not to hold it, but to breathe it out, pouring world-sorrow into the boundless ocean of Divine Love. Slow down. Complete your next exhalation on behalf of humanity, all the way out into the Infinite. Offer everything, and rest.
For thousands of years, when you were thirsty for Grace, you thought of Krishna, you thought of Kwan Yin, you thought of Amitaba, you thought of Jesus. And for a brief moment, a cool breeze came through the burning desert of separation.But the Savior lingered only for the duration of his name, a passing thought. The Guest of your heart did not stay. The Avatar came into this world and departed, ascending to heaven.
O friend, is there not a more constant way, a nourishing wind, a gentle rain, that greens your soul from within?
Why not welcome the Guest who never leaves, the Christ who never departed? Repose in the gesture of your heartbeat, and receive eternal salvation from this breath.
The media says, Tensions continue to rise this morning. Really? Whose tensions? Theirs. It's what they do. As for me, I breathe in the cool misty air of the Salish Sea, filtered through the boughs of a centuries-old cedar growing just outside my window, and I rest in the ancient wonder of this moment. Sacred calm. Sabbath. Friend, serve the world by reposing in your heart.
Photo, my Cedar Friend, by my window
Just outside my bedroom window, there is a cedar tree. It sprang up long before my house was built, and it will stand long after my house has fallen. When my body had not been born, it rooted here. When I crumble to dust, it will grow deeper.
This sacred cedar reminds me to root in my groundless heart. Only from a groundless center can true action spring up. For the heart's silence is a depth of loss, surrender, and self-emptiness so abysmal that al judgment and comparison drown there. In this depth, I can only do what I Am. The present moment is inevitable. And there is no 'should.'
Therefor I bow this Sabbath morning, and place my forehead on these roots, listening for the flow of wisdom and guidance from the dark earth. This is all that is left of "going to church" for me. But I do it with my whole heart.
Photo: Another Sacred Cedar meditation at my window
"Imperfection is beauty." ~Marilyn Monroe
"O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam!"
~Exultet, Easter Vigil
Here I fall, a sloppy fractal ceaselessly spilling from on high, into the dark blessed chaos of humanity. On this pathless way, the sign of progress is that I'm not as perfect as I was yesterday.
I make sacraments of my mistakes, and let God breathe through my broken places. I let my wounds stay open: that is the best healing, eyes of the Buddha where Jesus had gashes.
After ten thousand lifetimes, this seeker's heart knows what the robin knows at sunrise. I don't look for diamonds: even my jagged edges are made from infinitesimal love-sparks.
"I vow to be healed by the next person I meet. I will bathe in the radiance of humanity" : this is the rule of my lineage, a long tradition of failed monks.
I insist that the blind Guatemalan woman selling rutabagas in the open-air market be my guru. Here is my secret strength: long ago I threw away my measuring cup, and dove into the sea of wonder.
Why be caught in names? We all seek the same caress. There are thousands of reports, but only one breath, many hungers but a single wanting.
The king of the universe seeks my friendship: it's as simple as that. The one who created me broke my wings, so that I could dance on earth. How can I thank Her?
Love follows sadness, Autumn follows summer; I keep scattering myself like golden leaves to learn this.
A mother taught me to breathe, and with each breath I return to where I was before conception.
Saints, angels and Bodhisattvas hover over me in a white cloud, all thirsty, all longing to get into the tavern of my heart. But you get in first, friend; they're not here for serious drinking like us.
I have nothing to teach, and nothing to give you. That is why you must sit with me on a park bench overlooking the city. Rest your head on my shoulder; listen to the oaks trembling around us in the fading sunlight.
We are unbalanced equations, we are bright quarks spinning out of the void, discovering our loveliness in uncertainty.
We are awkward braids of honeyed wine, splashing into a dark chalice. We don't even know the name of the host who pours us out as an offering.
Photo: taken by my daughter, Abby, in the Pea Patch Community Garden, Seattle, and used as the cover of my book, 'Wounded Bud.'
What is 'non-duality'? So many speak of it, yet few taste the bitter sweet berry of God's name. A love-fermented river? A nectar stream? A sparkling continuum where subject and object, Shiva and Shakti, Lord and Paramour swirl and merge in the oceanic splendor of bewilderment?
Here is a secret: those who drink from the One never regain their sanity. They become Two, and rumba. They are inebriated beyond language. When they do resort to words, they cannot bear to discourse on the dry abstractions of Advaita, but can only sing the lyrics of Bhakti.
For they must speak on behalf of the pain and yearning of a universe in labor. They must speak for the hornet and the jack hammer, for both the quarry and the uncut diamond, the wound and the tooth alike.
The healer is drawn to the bruise like the black moth to a flame. The heart has two chambers. Our soul is not a flat-line but a pulse of light and shadow. The dance of non-duality is devotion.
Even the vulture has a sacred task, to polish our offered bones. Even Adi-Shankara, the fountain of Vedanta, could not contain the bursting wine in his heart. He was a pomegranate, after all, spilling seeds like you and me, mumbling hymns and prayers to the Goddess, to the Guru, to Shambo, Lord of Dissolving.
Video: Adi Shankara's masterpiece, Shiva Manas Puja, from 'Sacred Chants of Shiva' by Craig Pruess, excerpted translation below:
"O Lord, abode of compassion, O Pasupati, deign to accept my mental offerings of a gem-studded seat, a bath with cool water, divine garments inlaid with precious stones, sandal paste scented with musk, a garland made of jasmine, champaka flowers and bilva leaves, incense, and the waving of lights...
"O Sambhu, You are my very Self, my intellect is Goddess Parvati, your attendants are my vital airs, my body is Your temple, all enjoyments of sense-objects are Your worship, my sleep is samadhi, all my movements on my feet are circumambulations of You, whatever I speak is praise of You, and thus whatever action I perform is Your worship.
"When a devotee totally surrenders to God, then, giving up all sense of being a doer and an enjoyer, whatever that devotee does is God’s will.
"Whatever wrongs I may have committed with my hands, feet, speech, body, ears, eyes, or mind, in any action whether prescribed (by the scriptures) or not, deign to forgive all of them. O Ocean of compassion, O Mahadeva, O Sambhu. Hail to you." (Translated by S. N. Sastri)
The age of the Mediator is over. We have a standing invitation to enjoy immediate intimacy with the Radiance who created us.
I need no savior. I need no prophet or guru, no scripture, no sacrament or priest. In Saint Augustine's prescient words, "Deus intimeor intimo meo: God is more inward to me than I am to myself."
I need only a graceful shift of attention to the center of my heart. Here, in the heart's core, is a portal to infinite light. Why not start looking from this place instead of looking for this place?
A heart-shift is a taste of the wine Christ served at the wedding. One sip, one breath-full is enough, with no compulsion to hold it, to concentrate, to stay the flow. Instantaneous savors of grace, enjoyed throughout the day, bring more transformation than hours of rigorous formal discipline.
Here is the loveliest irony of all. I need not reject the Master I once thought I needed to cling to. When surrender happens in the heart, I am free for a more playful relationship with the Source. Liberated from the angst of seeking, I more joyfully taste the sacrament, delight in the scripture, dance in the garden of the guru's glance, walk with my savior on the pathless Way.
This is why Jesus told his disciples, "I no longer call you my servants; now I call you my friends."
Photo by Kristy Thompson
Never Send an 8 Year Old to Sunday School
I haven't really learned anything new since that radiant Spring afternoon when I was eight years old. After a beastly morning in Sunday school, I ripped off the stifling necktie and suit my parents made me wear to church, and put on musty jeans with a ragged tee-shirt, running barefoot into May weather. The sky was an immense robin's egg. Giant puffs of cloud tumbled slowly in the sunbeams, shimmering green on the grass, then gold in the wheat field all the way to the woods dotted white and pink with dogwood blossoms.
I gazed up into endless blue and, in the same instant, felt my feet rooted on the cool earth. I saw the essence of every religion from the dawn of history in that epiphany of earth and sky. And I knew it. I've studied them all for half a century since that moment, yet I've never found anything but a variation on that vision of ineluctable suchness in a schoolboy's heart.
"So this is what those old men in suits were trying to teach me in Sunday school!" I thought. "The sky is the Father. The Earth is the Mother. Standing between them, joining them like a lightning rod, I am their Son. This must be the Holy Trinity! But it only works when you run outside in your bare feet and put your body into it."
Here is how the universe taught me to breathe that day. At the crown of my head, where the baby has a soft spot, I visualize a bud unfolding into white petals, opening to the infinite sky. Blue sky is not a symbol or a day-dream, but the essential nature of consciousness: ever-expanding sapphire clarity of emptiness, where passing clouds of thought come and go lightly, without resistance. Breathing in from the crown of my head to my heart, every cell and every atom of my body fill up with that boundless blue. Christ became incarnate just to demonstrate this. I am here to experience the sky in each atom of flesh. Won't you join me in the universal body?
My spine is the stem of the flower. Having breathed the blue sky into my heart, I exhale. Awareness flows down the stem, out through the soles of my feet. I let all the chatter of yesterday, all the resistance of old thoughts, discharge their static into the ground. My root extends deep into the mothering darkness, to the center of the earth. When I need to release anxiety and fear, I can use this simple grounding breath. The key is not to make it esoteric, or technical. No one has to teach us how to breathe.
In Jewish mysticism, the Star of David depicts this breath: a down-pointing triangular flame from the sky meets the upturned triangle from the earth. They merge into a star at the heart. In the Yoga texts of India, this same symbol represents the heart center, hridaya, where Shiva and Shakti unite as Lover and Beloved. Mother Shakti rises up from the base of the spine, Lord Shiva descends from the crown. In early Christianity, the heart was the Bridal Chamber where Christos, the masculine energy of God, united with Sophia, the divine feminine. This is the mystery of Jesus and the Magdalene. It sounds quite esoteric in the Gnostic Gospels, but it's only the wild wisdom of a child running barefoot on the sunlit world.
The Garden is Now...
When my crown is open to the sky and my feet are rooted in the earth, I reclaim the innocence of Eden. I recover what St. Paul called the full stature of Christ, my birthright. No one can tell me this only happens in heaven, after we die! The Garden is Now. Creation is new each moment, and this human body is the Tree of Life. In the second century, St. Athanasius wrote, "God is humanity fully alive!"
When I practice this breath, I don't let the serpentine twists of the mind's doubt lure me to that other tree, the Tree of Thinking, clustered with opposites: good and evil, past and future, male and female. I rest in a silence free from the myriad polarities of the mind, at the center of the Garden of Now.
I breathe in blue radiance, crown to heart, then exhale into earth. I recognize who I AM, blossoming in stars, my roots clustered at the core of the planet.The Church Is Here...I AM grateful. Breathing unites earth and heaven. Just to breathe is worship. I AM grateful. This is a good place to build my church: right here, right now. The body is my temple, its alter my heart. Sink the foundations in dark soil, my bare feet. Open the ceiling to the sky, crown chakra. There is no priest but me, offering creation back to Creator, distilled in the fragrant incense of one breath. I AM grateful.
I invite you to place your attention on the gentle sound vibration, Om Namah Shivaya. This universal redeeming mantra purifies the breath and heals the nervous system, the senses, and the world perceived by the senses. The flow of these syllables through your breath enlivens the five elements of your body and the whole earth around you.
Om-Na-Ma-Shi-Va-Ya: "May divine purity pervade earth, water, fire, air, space and consciousness." Each syllable purifies one of the five elements in the body. Na - earth at the root of the spine; Ma - water in the abdomen; Shi - fire in the solar plexus; Va - air in the chest; Ya - prana at the throat; Om - the space in the forehead. The bindu or dot written above Om is the space just above the crown of the head. In that silence space, akasha, all energy merges in the source.
No need to concentrate on these centers, or on the syllables. Simply chant the mantra, then let it ripple away into silence. The blessing of the mantra does not come through our work, our concentration, but through the grace inherent in the space of consciousness itself. For these syllables are the Vrittis or vibrations that arise within the silence of the Atma, the Self. Let waves of purification wash through you and over you. Each vibration will flow automatically to the area in the body where it is needed for healing. Just let the grace of the mantra do the work.
Breathing and chanting this mantra opens awareness to the stream of loving-kindness that created the universe. In the East, this creative stream is called Shakti. She is the Goddess sent forth by God to play, to manifest diversity, and to create. Thus Shiva, who is the unmanifest stillness of pure awareness, delights in the dance of his own energy in the form of Goddess Shakti, who in the West is called the Holy Spirit.
Let the mantra flow effortlessly as a pulsation of inner sound, resonating through the hollow cord at the center of the spine. If the syllables grow faint and run together into one stream, like the murmur of a mountain brook, wonderful! Let it be. Thus the mantra merges into Shivo'ham, "I am Shiva."
If the mantra dissolves like a fading chime into pure silence, wonderful! Let it be. Thus the mantra merges into Om, the resonance of the Unmanifest.
If the syllables remain distinct, sparkling, majestic and clear, that is wonderful too! Let the mantra be, however it comes.
Your mind is the open window divine Light wants to pour through. Your breath is the wellspring of divine Love. Your heart is the fountain where the grace of Divine Mother gushes into creation. Om Namah Shivaya.
All hearts beat in one language, whether the mouth speaks English or Persian. By some ancient covenant written in our bones, we consent to the message in the light that spills through a stranger's eyes. Whether we worship Allah or Yahweh, it takes just a glance to know that all human blood ebbs and flows in sympathy with the same moon.
I know, friend, priests and imams call you to war; but there's something in your ancient brain that is deeper than fear, something that nods in agreement with the enemy, grinning wildly, effusing tears and murmuring, 'Yes, yes, you are right!'
Every Jew breathes atoms that Mohammad breathed. The Prophet's breath contained Christ's sighs, desert dust shaken from Moses' sandals. Right now, you and I are breathing Jesus. We embody one another, the way a gaze sent up from Isfahan, and a gaze from the Dome of the Rock, mingle in one unspeakable star.
Now try this experiment: remove your heart. Place it on a butcher's block and see what color it is. See if it's made of paper and ink, carved from stone, with a face. See if your heart is white or black, Arab, Incan, Jewish or Pashtoon. See if it's burgundy, tinted with rose, a little drunk, trembling and alive. See if it gasps with a prayer, a spasm of wanting, yearning to fill itself with the blood of every man or woman on earth....
This is what you learn: to depend on the silence of the body to solve every riddle of words; to gaze inward toward that nameless star in the center of your ancient brain, where all scriptures came from; to listen by some stream in the summer woods, where the water whispers and swallows wait quietly in green shadows, trusting the answers of the heart, and hearing the breath that ever goes in and out, like this: सो ऽहम, 'Ham'so,' I Am the Divine.
* Photo: the great Mosque at Isfahan, Iran.* सो ऽहम्: the mantra 'So'ham,' union of inbreath and outbreath, soul and God.
"What can I do when I feel like I am barely coping, and about to have a panic attack?"
You need to know this: the only way out of your maze is to Be in the place where you are.
If you are barely coping, here are the instructions for you at this moment: barely cope.
Barely cope, but do not compare yourself to anyone else, and do not compare this moment to any other moment. It's the wanting to be elsewhere that causes you to suffer.
Barely cope, without resistance, without comparison, and your bare coping is suddenly full of Presence.
This moment of barely coping has the same fullness as the most wonderful moment! The content of this moment may be different, but the Presence is always the same; it is boundlessly complete because there is no other moment.
"But what can I do about this panicked breathless sensation in my chest when I am barely coping"?
Instead of avoiding this panicky feeling, feel it 100%. Commit to spending the next few minutes being with the sensation as it is. This is your path out of the maze.
It sounds obvious, but it may come as a revelation to discover that you feel breathless because you are not breathing. When breath is constricted, you will undoubtedly feel panic, because this sensation is how the body tells you that you need to breathe. Your body is your spiritual guide.
Just becoming aware of your breathing, instead of trying to focus on something else, will gradually slow the panic response. Stay with the breath and merge your mind with every physical sensation as it arises. Then, when you are ready, take one slow marvelous breath, filling your whole body.
Amazingly, millions of people have never completed a single breath, from the nostrils right down to the belly. Do it now. In the midst of a panic attack, this breath is your only duty. Savor every inch of your breath-body: the cool sensation of inhalation in the nostrils, the brush of air with the sound of a breeze down the back of your throat, the slow expansion of chest and ribs, the softening and widening of your belly, and the sense of touching bottom, grounding in the pit of the stomach. One breath can be the path that connects heaven and earth.
Now breathe out, following this same path in reverse, from belly to nostrils.
Yes, it's a hectic day. So what? It's the only day you have. In fact, it is the perfect day because there is no alternative. "This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it." (Psalm 118)
Even in the middle of a hectic day, you can celebrate this breath, this moment, this body.
Doubt speaks, "How can I possibly be happy in such a world?"
The silence between thoughts replies, "Must the world be fixed for you to be happy?"
Jesus was in constant action, service and compassion for our planet. Yet he said, My kingdom is not of this world. He was crucified. Yet in his deepest core, he was never not happy.
If our happiness depends on our circumstance, we are tossed about by winds of karma. But if we rest in the luminosity of our original nature, the bounty of awareness simply aware of awareness, we are happy in the midst of all action, because our happiness has nothing to do with it.
Then actions can arise spontaneously, with no compulsion to "improve" the world. The restful heart does not see a snake in the rope, only a rope. Therefor, the restful heart is not motivated by panic or fear. The rope is just a rope, and the world is just as it is right now, which includes our spontaneous action to ease another's pain.
Solve the problem of this moment, without imagining a catastrophe in the future. Don't spoil the authentic beauty of your present action by trying to change the future. You can't. The world follows its own nature. This moment is inevitable.
Now here is the hardest lesson of all. Our good works may not be as good as we think, if they interfere with another's free will, or deny another's right to learn from the consequences of their own deeds.
In the mind of God or the Universe, who can say whether the works of the most passionate activist are of any more value than the patient washing of a single dish in a pail of soap suds?